26 February 2009

Baking bread

The Basic Bread loaf made yesterday

I was asked by Charis to post about a simple bread recipe and I’m happy to do that because I know there are a number of readers who are trying to perfect their bread or just starting out in the wonderful world of home baking.

First let me say that it doesn’t matter whether you make bread by hand or in a machine. The aim in making bread is to make a good wholesome loaf that contains no preservatives, is cheaper than a shop-bought loaf, and is so delicious, that it becomes your family’s bread of choice. Either hand or machine will give you that, but you also need to fit bread making into your normal day-to-day activities. We are all aiming for no fuss, not much time in preparation, and good reliable bread every time you bake. If someone tells you you’re not doing the right thing making bread in a machine, don’t listen to them; if someone tells you must use a machine to get good bread, don’t listen to them. Make up your own mind and do it how it works best for you, and that might be a mixture of both, or one of them. Trust yourself.
Basic bread is a mixture of flour, water, yeast and salt. There are many other things you can add, but that is your basic loaf. If you would like to add more flavour, you’d add maybe some milk or milk powder, oats, sugar, butter or oil, or different flour – such as wholemeal, whole grain, rye, sourdough rye, soy and linseed, corn and barley or spelt. Each will give its own unique flavour and they have differing nutritional benefits. Remember, white wheat flour, and most other flours, are bland in taste and must have these natural flavourings added. Once you work out what flavour works best for your family, then you can tweak the amounts of salt, sugar etc so you get the bread that suits you perfectly. I have noticed that American recipes call for a lot more salt and sugar than we use here. This is all just a matter of taste - adding more or less salt or sugar to a bread recipe doesn't spoil the bread - so start with a good reliable recipe and experiment with your additives until you get them right. If the recipe you use has too much, or too little, sugar or salt for you, change it.

Inside the basic loaf.

The bread I made yesterday to test out this basic loaf recipe is the most basic loaf I know of.

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1¾ cups of water
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt
It turned out okay but it’s not a really tasty loaf. You will get better if you add more flavourings. Here is a more flavoursome recipe. If you use a machine, put it in the machine in this order:

  • 1½ teaspoons dried yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 65 mls (2oz) warm water
  • 3¾ cups baker's flour - also called strong flour or high protein flour
  • 3 teaspoons gluten flour (from supermarkets, the health food store or bulk goods store)
  • 1 tablespoon butter/margarine (softened)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon milk powder
  • 1 cup warm water + more if necessary
  • 3½ cups bread flour - can be white, wholemeal, rye, grain - whatever. If you use a heavier flour you'll need to increase the amount of water used.
  • 1 teaspoon salt. Please use good salt, not table salt. Even cooking salt is better than table salt.
  • 1 tablespoon butter
Put all the above in your bread machine bucket.

In a teacup add and mix up:
  • ¾ cup lukewarm water
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
plus another cup of warm water - I can't tell you the exact amount of water you'll use. That will depend on your flour and the weather. Start with the 1¾ cups and you might have to add more.

Mix the ingredients in the cup and allow to stand for 5 minutes. You want your yeast to prove - it will look like this:

When it's finished, remove the dough and roll it into a long cigar shape - about 12 inches long. Cut into about 8 pieces for large rolls or 12 pieces for small rolls. Take each piece of dough and work it with your hands into a nice round ball. Place all the balls on a baking tray, add seeds, polenta or a criss-cross and allow to rise for about 30 minutes - depending on the temperature in your house.

All the bread machine recipes above can be made by hand as well.


More of my posts on bread are here, flower pot bread is here, moving beyond the plain loaf is here, the New York Times no knead bread. My tutorial for making bread by hand.

But baking isn’t just about recipes, is it. It’s about technique, knowing your ingredients and doing the right thing. Don't be a passive bystander when you're cooking, become involved in it. Learn about your ingredients and what they do. Know why you're using them.

So here are a few hints:
  • If you store your yeast in the fridge, and you should, mix it in warm water to bring up the temperature before you add it to the flour. You can either wait till it bubbles, so you know the yeast is active, or you can just mix it in and use it after it's warmed up. If you’re using water from the hot kettle, pour the water into the cup first, test it to make sure it’s not too hot, then add the yeast. Pouring hot water into yeast will kill it.
  • No matter what type of flour you use, it will absorb differing amounts of water depending on the weather. If it's a humid day you might find you use less water; on a dry day, or in a heated home, you might need more. So when you go through a recipe, be flexible with the water. If a recipe calls for 1 ¼ cups, add one cup and mix, adding the ¼ cup slowly until the dough looks and feels right. If you don't add all the ¼ cup, or if you add a little more, that is okay.
  • Whether you use your hands or a bread machine, you need to touch the dough. Learn the feel of good dough so you know what to look for. Remember all stages of the dough - it changes a lot through the process. Basically, when all the ingredients are mixed together, you want a dough that isn't too sticky (although almost all rye dough will be more sticky that wheat dough) and isn't too dry. Feel it between your fingers and thumb, just like feeling a piece of fabric. Wheat dough will be soft by not sticky. If you're still at the beginning, you can add a little more flour or water, according to what your judgement aims you at. Don't add anything at all at the end of the process, you'll ruin the bread.
  • Don't use too much flour to knead the dough. A light sprinkling is enough. Adding more flour when kneading adds more flour to the dough and at the end of the process that will give you a tough loaf.
  • You need a hot oven to bake bread successfully, and the oven needs to be pre-heated for the best results. Bread has two types of rising - one is from the yeast you use, the other is called "oven lift" - you get this when you put properly proved bread dough into a HOT oven. The heat immediately starts to lift the bread. That is what you want. Adding dough to a warm oven won't give you the same result.
And the best tip I can give is to warn you that you will have flops, everyone does, but that's okay, learn from it and keep going. When the bread doesn't rise properly, or if it tastes bland, work out what went wrong and fix it next time. Because if you can get this right, if you learn how dough should feel at all stages of preparation, if you work on shaping your bread and decorating it, if you get into the rhythm of making bread on a regular basis, it will become a joy for you and your family. Bread making is one of the true pleasures of living a simple life. Be brave, give it a go.


  1. Hello Rhonda
    I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying your blog this year! Making bread is one of my favourite things to cook in the kitchen - satisfying in so many ways for everyone in the house - and it's a simple thing to do to enrich your life too. I've signed up for the swap also, and my partner and I are enjoying an overseas conversation already. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  2. Thanks so much!! Next will be gluten-free bread (my boyfriend can't have gluten...)

    Thanks again!

  3. Thanks for this. We thought about a breadmaker for ages, but didn't to spend the money and then find it was useless, stood unused or didn't make good bread. I bought a couple of breadmixes to try by hand and found I am too weak to knead bread for ten minutes! (I have ME or chronic fatigue syndrome). My husband finished it off and it was great. So we bought a basic breadmaker at a good price and it's great. We both need bread that is mainly wholemeal, and I have made 100% and 75% wholemeal loaves with great success. It tastes wonderful as sandwiches and especially as toast and each time takes about five minutes to set up. We wish we'd got one years ago.

  4. Good morning Rhonda,

    I've been looking forward to this post, as previous attempts to make bread have been very ordinary to say the least.
    May I just ask a couple of questions?
    Which salt do you use as I didn't know there was such a big difference?
    Would skim powdered milk do the same job in the beginner's loaf or is it better to use full cream?
    In the bread rolls I'm not sure if you meant; add the extra cup of warm water to the yeast mix or is this added when the yeast has proven, or is this added into the combined yeast and flour mixture if it seems a bit dry?
    Thanks for your patience. I and I'm sure a lot of your follower's are really excited about this mystery we call bread making. Just another step along the way to "The Good Life"

    Blessings Gail

  5. I love your basic bread recipe. Before I put my loaf in the oven I squeeze some honey over the top and also some oats and sunflower seeds. Everyone who has tried it loves it. That kind of loaf costs nearly $5 at the bakery, it costs me less than $2 to make, bargain!
    There are some other great bread recipes on hillbillyhousewife.com the home made tortillas are really easy and yummy :o)

  6. hmm, bread! Nothing at all compares to fresh home baked bread!

  7. Hi bunting, thank you.

    Charis, leaving the gluten flour out of the beginner's loaf will still give you a good loaf. However, if your boyfriend can't eat ordinary wheat flour, maybe you could try spelt or rye.

    Gail, I never use table salt. I use ordinary cooking salt or sea salt - check the label, you want plain salt with no additives. Powdered skim milk is fine, just use the milk you usually have on hand. In the bread rolls recipe, the first three ingredients are added to the bread pan, mix the second three ingredients separately, then add them to the first three. Then add the cup of warm water to combine it all together. Good luck, and it's fine to ask questions. :- )

  8. Charis, I wasn't specific enough. Just leaving gluten flour out of the recipe doesn't give you gluten-free bread. You'll need to bake with either gluten free flour, spelt (some people tolerate that very well) or rye.

  9. Hi Rhonda, I am on a roll with bread at my house too....pun intended. Basically been using Jim Lahey's no-knead recipe and adjusting my water to work with the whole wheat flour. It is also fun to add other things. One of my favorite combinations is sliced black olive and rosemary. And I always put ground flax sees in the mix. After reading your other bread tutorial I started adding sesame seeds and flax seeds on the outside - really like that. Thank you for sharing all you know. Emily

  10. A whole tablespoon of sugar is WAY too sugary for me! I'd use a tsp to prove yeast, but have had equally good results from a flour-water mixture.
    Secondly, what do you mean by "good salt, not table salt"? I'm not convinced that there is enough flavour difference to justify the expense in something I use in such small quantities.

  11. Thanks Rhonda,

    That's great. I'll bake tomorrow and let you know how it goes.

    Blessings Gail

  12. Wow, what a great post! Everything you write is so helpful, informative, and overall, just plain nice :) I am planning on giving your recipe a try this weekend.

    Have you heard of the Artisan in Five bread? It's a no-knead bread that I've been enjoying lately. It's been perfect for someone who doesn't have the time every day to make a loaf (although I would LOVE to!), but still wants to make their own bread. I've found it quite helpful.

    thanks again for all your inspiration. I'm very thankful to have found your blog.

  13. For those with clunky bread making machines, put them to use by at least mixing/kneading the dough for you, especially if you don't have time to bother or don't have the strength to knead dough. I prefer to take the dough out and shape by hand or place in a baking pan for oven baking. Rhonda, you've given some great links here today. Thanks

  14. Thanks for these recipes i am going to give it a try this afternoon! I have a bread maker but am struggling to find the "perfect" recipe/method to get the bread we desire! Yours looks soooo yummy, i would love to see some more of your bread recipes if you get a chance one day! Thanks for your blog...love it!

  15. Rhonda,
    I've been baking the NY Times no-knead for quite a while, and it truly is one of my favorites. Just got "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" cookbook for Christmas, and gotta say I'm lovin' it! I have been making the focaccia the last couple of weeks, and it is so delicious! I encourage anyone to get it 1st from the library and try it for themselves. Nothing beats a homemade loaf of bread!

  16. Very timely thanks Rhonda. One of my missions for 2009 is to learn how to bake bread and I might just give it a go this weekend using your recipe.

  17. Lovely post. I love homemade bread. The smell of it rising and the agonizingly tempting smell of it baking, well, it reminds me of my childhood.

  18. i have a bread maker that i have used once in the 5 years that i have had it. i keep saying i'm gonna make more cause we go through bread like no bodies business... i need to get on that! thanks for the tips!

  19. Thank you. This is inspiring. I've been experimenting with making bread, both in the oven and the bread machine, and have been meaning to make some more. Store bought bread is getting so expensive, and like you said, homemade is so much better and better for you. Anyhow, thanks for this valuable information, especially the part about using a hot oven. I didn't know that!


  20. Thank you so much for the details of bread making! I have had more flops than success but I keep plugging along. The weather seems to make a difference that I must learn to account for.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    cathy c

  21. I love your blog and have been reading for a few months. We love homemade bread, but I don't have time to make it very often. I noticed a couple of other readers mentioned this book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a day. I came across this site from Mother Earth News Magazine and here is a link to a couple of recipes from the book. One is the Master Recipe. We love the bread and have been baking a loaf about 3 times a week! Love this so much we went out last weekend and bought the book!


    Hope this helps someone else in a time crunch.

  22. Dear Rhonda,
    you remind me on baking a bread (with walnuts and fresh cheese and bread spices) and to clean the pantry, too. The first thing I like, the second I don't so very much, but it is necessary from time to time.
    Best wishes around the earth
    from Anemone

  23. I love the King Arthur Flour blog. They do step by step how to make almost any bread product from scratch. I even made toaster pastries using our homemade cherry jam, by following one of their blog posts. Very helpful and has made me a much better bread maker!

  24. rhonda i must admit, i've tried the recipe for your beginner's loaf several times, each with the same result: dense bread, overcooked on the outside and edges, and undercooked in the middle. i actually rather believe that australian and american teaspoons and tablespoons are different, and this may be my mistake. also ... milk powder is hard to find/expensive here in the U.S. so i've just used soymilk. it seems to be fine and not affect things too much. just thought american readers might want to know these things. love your blog, though, as always, and i'm looking forward to trying to whip up some of your homemade cleaners soon!

  25. Oh, I feel better. I prefer a machine because it just fits into my life better but I admit to feeling a bit guilty about not doing it "the old fashioned way."

  26. Hi Rhonda,

    I am a huge fan of yours! So please take this comment in the spirit in which I share it.

    Spelt flour is NOT gluten free, though it isn't uncommon for people to think it is. Please let your readers know that the only way to truly make a gluten free loaf is to avoid wheat, rye, and barley. Spelt is not gluten free.

    Thanks for helping!


  27. Hi, Rhonda!
    Some time ago you showed and explained that you were trying to use sourdough starter in bread making. How has that been for you? Have you been successful with your starter and a sourdough recipe? I was able to get a starter from our local bulk store and have been scouring the internet for information on feeding it, storing it, using it. It can be very overwhelming!

    Again, thank you for all the time and effort you invest in promoting a simple life and sharing knowledge. You're an inspiration.
    Teresa (Kentucky, USA)

  28. I tried a number of times to make bread by hand. *sigh* Lets just say that I ended up throwing some of it out because it was absolutely inedible. I gave up.

    I finally did a ton of research and bought a bread machine. I really wanted to make bread because buying bread without HFCS was EXPENSIVE. I have an occasional dud but am otherwise able to churn out a perfect loaf of bread in my extremely limited amount of time. It might not be homemade by my hands like I wanted but it is homemade and that is what is important to me.

    I use plain table salt in my bread machine. Recipes generally call for 1 to 1.5 tsp. I don't use sugar but either honey or molasses. 1.5 TB of honey or 2.5 TB of molasses. You could probably use agave nectar or anything else as long as it has a sugar type component in it for the yeast.

  29. I need to pay more attention to these swaps - I have managed to come in at the end of every blog that is having or has had a swap - what are you guys swapping anyway?!?! Back to bread - I have been baking my own bread for a few months every weekend and I love it - my husband calls me his little Tree Hugger - I figure I could be called worse things. :) I love reading this blog and the One Green Generation & These Days in French Life because you make it all seem so attainable. When I mention to people I make my own bread, granola, cheese, hair wash, face scrub and what ever they look at me like I am nuts - we are currently working on our garden and I am trying to talk my husband into canceling the HD Cable and hang a clothes line - I am sure I give them the same look because I think if you don't do all or some of things it is just plain laziness. You just have to redefine normal as I have been reading. It isn't right that so many people take our planet for granted and in the process sacrifice our families and communities. OK - I will step off my soap box. Thank you for your blog and continued encouragement that we can all take small steps to improve our lives, families and environments.

  30. Hi Rhonda -

    I'm hoping that you may have some ideas for a problem (small!) that I have, not really even a problem, lol. Would you have a look at my blog - the post is Bits and Bobs Monday and let me know what you think of my bread pan dilemma, please?

    Also, I don't like to add links into comments if it can be avoided but I didn't see an email for you - I thought you might like to have a look at these videos on "Depression Cooking" by 93 year old Clara. Found them while doing a search for "Thrifty".

  31. Ahhh, the smell of bread baking . . . is there anything better. Oh yes, wait, eating it. Thanks for the post on bread making.

  32. Thanks Rhonda! Like so many things you write about we have found the committment to making bread is about fitting it into our regular routine. In the evening when they do the dinner dishes, I mix up the bread to rise overnight. Then the next day when the kids get home from school I bake the bread. We have fresh bread for dinner and enough left to make sandwiches for the kids to take to school the next day. We all really enjoy the no-knead recipe and recently expanded to the sour dough no-knead. We have not purchased store bread for two months now!

    deb in the PNW

  33. A previous poster's comment about the possibility of differences in U.S./Australian measurements made me go searching and ... yes, apparently they are different.

    Several sources say that an Australian metric tablespoon is 20 ml, or the equivalent of 4 (not 3) U.S. teaspoons (which are generally considered as 5 ml)

    One Australian source specified that the spoonsful be mounded where we Americans are taught to carefully level off our measurements.

    I'm not sure these differences are enough to change the recipes -- to me it sounds like the poster with the hard outside/raw inside bread has an oven that is hotter than the dial indicates (have you tested it with an oven thermometer?)

    Isn't is interesting that things we take for granted, like basic measurements, actually differ from country to country?

  34. chookie, "good salt" is salt with nothing added. They put in anticaking agent and flowing agent in a lot of salt, it's madness. Good salt doesn't cost a lot. I buy mine at around $1 a kilo, just plain old ordinary Australian sea salt.

    Shawna, yes, I have heard of the artisan bread book. I am a creature of habit, I suppose, and while I sometimes do a sourdough, or the NY times fast loaf, I tend to stick with these recipes.

    Lisa, thanks for the King Arthur Flour blog link. I checked it out and love it.

    Karen, maybe your bread pan is too big or your oven too cool. Have you tried the bread as rolls? That might work in your oven. I didn't know we had different measurements for tablespoons. Crikey! Why isn't a spoon the same everywhere. Grrr. You don't have to use milk powder, leave it out, I often do.

    Thanks Ellen. :- ) I knew spelt isn't gluten-free, but I thought spelt flour could be tolerated by some people with gluten intolerance, although not those with celiac disease. Is that right? I'll do some more reading on it.

    Teresa, I got busy and forgot about my sourdough and didn't feed it. I'll get back to it when things are a bit slower here.

    Kadeeae, Sharon posted a link to those videos a week or so ago. Thanks.. I'll check you post when I have time over the weekend.

    Keep up the good work, Deb.

    Thanks for the info Holly.

  35. Hi Rhonda,

    Thank you so much for the basic bread recipe. I have been trying different types and I will be adding this one to my list. I am still new at homemade bread but trying!!

    Thanks for the wonderful blog, you and your hubby are fantastic!

  36. Hi Rhonda.

    I absolutely have to brag - you inspired me to finally attempt to hand make a loaf of bread today, and it came out fantastic! I even shared pictures of it on my own blog, that's how proud I was / am! Consider yourself an inspiration. :) (Well, I guess that's part of the reason you have a book deal, you've inspired so many of us.)

    Something I wrote about on my post today was having to alter the recipe for location. I had never known that before starting to research high altitude / dry climate baking. I thought a recipe was a recipe was a recipe - but apparently it's not! You learn something new every day. Are you near sea level or up higher? I used the basic recipe that you provided but had to alter the amounts of ingredients and make a couple of substitutions. But either way, it was a great start you provided. :)

  37. Oh Oh I see the mistake of adding too much flour in kneading. I had a loaf too sticky . I will approach it from the other side. Hold back the water at mix to see how she holds.
    If I could just get the kids to like it enough to take to school. some kid teased them now they won't eat it if I pack it very annoying!

  38. hi, rhonda. thanks for your response; you think my oven might be too cool, and holly brought up the very interesting idea that my oven might just be hotter than my dial! it's not the best oven, granted (i rent), but at least it's gas ... and I found that moving the rack up one notch higher than the gas source has done some good. so holly had the great idea to try an oven thermometer to see if my dial is true, or not. thanks a lot holly and rhonda! it's amazing about the spoons ...

  39. Everytime I come for a visit, I leave with more information than I'm able to process.I have a mother starter in my closet [just 2 days old] soon I'll be baking my bread. While waiting I think I'll try your recipe.Enjoy my visits.

  40. Hi Rhonda
    I discovered your blog yesterday and my goodness! I'm in absolute heaven! Wondering if you can help me locate gluten flour though; I am in north-west Brisbane and can't find it anywhere!! I think I got my last lot from either Woolies or Coles but now none of the local supermarkets (incl IGA), health food or specialty shops seem to have it.
    Where do you source yours from?
    Thanks so much for all the inspiration too by the way!!

  41. Thank you for all of the great information. I am new to blogging and I am trying to be more self-sufficient and have started gardening and making my own bread. I love that you add photos which help me to see what you are talking about as well.

    Thanks from another Rhonda :-)

  42. Hi Rhonda Jean,I'''v just started baking my bread again,you have inspired me,i use my Breadmaker, which i love, the problem is i can"t slice it until about 7 hours later, its so soft,and keeps breaking up, and it really turns out great,if i cook it early in the morning,for example,i can't cut it for lunch, i have to wait until that night to slice it,so it,s only good for toast the next day,have you a solution for me, carol, love all your advice.

  43. HI RJ;
    I am in love with you and your idea of living simple...You have become a role model for pppl like me, I never dared to bake a bread before but thanks to you I have been active in my kitchen and love to bake and send warm hugs to you. Do check out my blog and the Bread I baked thanks to you!!!!http://indulge-ashscorner.blogspot.com/2010/08/home-made-whole-wheat-bread.html
    Love Ash,

  44. Hi RJ. Thanks so much for your great bread making instructions! It's been fantastic to make here in Singapore, where the commercial bread is full of sugar and preservatives. I've had success with your beginners' loaf over the last couple of months and I'm moving on to try rolls. Quick question: when making by hand, do you shape into rolls after the first rise and punching down phase, and then leave for the second rise? Or do you shape immediately after kneading and only have one rise?

  45. singaporegirl, it's the first option. Shape after the first rise and punchdown. It's good to know you're doing well with the bread.

  46. Can anyone recommend what type of gluten free flour is best for bread making? I buy a GF flour mix from coles but was thinking it might be cheaper buying one or two particular types of GF flours in bulk from health shop. Thanks Skye

  47. Could you make the bread without salt as my husband needs to limit his salt? I would prefer to make rye or wholemeal bread. Could this be adapted? Any suggestions for any seasonings beside salt would be appreciated.

    1. You don't need salt to make bread, it improves the taste. You could add oats, seeds, especially caraway seeds for rye bread, butter or oil for extra taste.


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